Efforts by some state governments to obtain necessary safety and security clearances to launch Remotely Piloted Aircraft (drones) to tackle insecurity in their domains appear to be failing, no thanks to the strict conditions stipulated by Federal Government agencies responsible for granting the approvals.
This is happening amid serious security challenges in various states across the country.
No state government, agency, organisation or individual is allowed to launch an RPA (drone) for any reason without obtaining approval from Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the agency regulating safety and security in the country’s airspace, and Office of National Security Adviser.
Checks revealed that some states have been in the process of getting safety and security clearances from NCAA and ONSA for almost two years now.
Currently, some of the states that have made moves to deploy drones to tackle bandits, kidnappers, and killer herdsmen are Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Kaduna and Anambra.
Among other things, the drones are meant to monitor and record the activities and hideouts of criminals, including bandits, kidnappers and killer herdsmen.
Officials of NCAA and ONSA, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to comment on security matters, said Lagos State had been on the process for about two years.
Osun State, which began the process under ex-Governor Rauf Aregbesola, has yet to get the necessary clearance to launch the drones, according to the officials.
According to the officials, Kaduna State also moved to get the necessary clearance to deploy drones following killings in the state about four years ago but has yet to obtain the final approvals from NCAA and ONSA. However, there are indications that the state has obtained End User Certificate from ONSA.
It was also learnt that Anambra State government suspended its move to get such a clearance after changing its strategy on security.
“ONSA is very careful. They don’t want to just give approvals to state governments that will later abuse the privilege. Again, ONSA is reluctant because security agencies are under Federal Government and as such, giving approvals to state governments to deploy drones is something that has to be done with necessary checks.
“Also, there is the need to carry out proper safety and security profiling on the security firms that will help the state governments to deploy the drones. So, it is a very detailed and important issue,” a top official privy to details of the state governments’ applications said.
Further checks revealed that many of the state governments had yet to train drone pilots who would fly the RPAs in line with NCAA safety requirements, while security firms which would partner some of the states to train drone pilots had yet to get approvals from the NCAA.
“It is a long process. Before the states can be given RPA operating licence by NCAA to launch drones, they need to come with End User Certificate from ONSA to NCAA. We have since asked them to go and get that. Some of them have been in the process for about two years. Safety and security issues are involved in drone deployment and these must be cleared,” a top official at the Ministry of Aviation, who is privy to the development, said.
Strict scrutiny for drone deployment is standard practice – Aviation ministry, NCAA
When contacted, Ministry of Aviation and NCAA said that drone deployment required strict scrutiny, noting that it was the standard practice to ensure necessary safety clearances were done.
Deputy Director, Press and Public Affairs, Aviation ministry, Mr James Odaudu, said it was important to thoroughly scrutinise the move as it had to do with safety and security issues.
Odaudu also said NCAA was the body mandated by the ministry to certify the use of drones in civil airspace.
He said, “Of course, the deployment of drones for purposes of securing any location is a security matter, which is why security agencies would be involved.
“Also, I would say it is standard practice to thoroughly scrutinise the move because it is one that would have an impact on national security, whether positive or negative. Although personally, I’ve not been informed about the requests by states on drones’ deployment and don’t know about it now.”
He added, “However, it is NCAA that is mandated to certify the use of drones and there is a need to be cleared by the authority, as well as get the required clearance from other security agencies as may be required.”
General Manager, Public Affairs, NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye, said the regulatory agency was working together with ONSA on issues relating to the deployment of drones.
“NCAA is working in conjunction with ONSA on the issue of drones. However, the ultimate security clearance is handled in the NSA Office. It is pertinent to point out that due diligence is done in view of the security implication,” he said.
End-User Certificates must be screened by DSS before approval– ONSA
Office of National Security Adviser has stated that all End-User Certificate requests or applications are subject to screening by Department of State Services before approval or otherwise.
ONSA noted that state governments wishing to import equipment to support security agencies must go through the agency to get approval.
ONSA stated these in its “Guidelines for application for EUCs” published on its website.
When our correspondent contacted ONSA office in Abuja, a source said the office had no spokesperson and all information could be obtained from its website.
“I am not aware that state governments made any application, but if they follow the guidelines, which are stated on the EUC website, their requests will be treated accordingly,” he said.
ONSA on its End-User Certificate website highlighted “five easy steps” to apply for the certificate.
It said, “One, read the guidelines on supporting documents required for the EUC application. Two, create an account by filling the sign-up form. You will be notified via an electronic mail and a short message service immediately if your account is approved or disapproved.
“Three, apply for the EUC by logging onto the portal and providing the relevant information as required. Four, wait for a notification for approval or disapproval of your application. Five, collect your EUC at the Office of the National Security Adviser. EUC applications are free of charge at every stage.
“All EUC requests and applications are subject to screening by Department of State Services before approval or otherwise. State governments wishing to import equipment to support security agencies must go through that agency to make such application.”
From the website, categories of equipment listed as requiring EUC included; military hardware, chemicals, explosives and explosive devices, fireworks, arms and ammunition, remotely piloted aircraft and lawful intercept equipment.